EQ’s inside look at Gotham North
PHOTOS BY Ann Leary
This story appeared in EQLiving’s Inaugural Issue in Fall 2012
She grew up in New York City, her father is a billionaire, and she spends her weekends traveling from one horse show to another, competing against the top riders in the country. Some of the mean girls on the show circuit make snide comments about her, claiming that her wins are only due to the fact that her father buys her such expensive show horses. She ignores the mean girls and spends every spare moment at the barn, working hard with her trainer, riding all the horses she can, determined to become one of the top riders in the world, and perhaps to make a career in the horse business, despite her father’s skepticism. No, she’s not Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. She’s Thomasina Aaronson, the heroine of Ms. Bloomberg’s delightful new young adult novels, The A Circuit and My Favorite Mistake (co-written with Catherine Hapka). One can’t help drawing comparisons between Thomasina and Georgina — there’s the wealthy father, the New York City upbringing, and the love of horses — but on a recent visit to Ms. Bloomberg’s beautiful upper Westchester farm, Gotham North, she explained to her visitors from Equestrian Quarterly that Thomasina isn’t really meant to be her. “There’s a little bit of me in all the characters in The A Circuit novels,” she said.
Georgina began riding ponies at age 4. By the time she turned 18, she was one of the top junior riders in the nation. Now, at age 29, she has won over 50 Grand Prix titles and competed in 10 Nation Cup teams for the United States. In 2008, she was long-listed for the U.S. Olympic equestrian team. She spends her winters showing in Florida and has spent the past six summers competing in Europe and Canada, where show jumping, and other equestrian sports are much more popular among the general public than they are here in the United States.
“In Sweden,” Georgina explains, “it’s the No. 2 sport after football. In Germany, you’ll hear the results of your ride on the radio as you’re driving back to the barn. Lots of people turn out for the shows, not just riders, but fans.”
In Europe, Georgina would be considered a sports celebrity, but at home she’s known more as the mayor’s daughter than as one of our nation’s top riders. When asked if the lack of notoriety as a rider at home is discouraging to her, Georgina responds that it’s not the lack of personal recognition as a rider but, rather, the poor turnout of spectators at shows that she finds disappointing. “It’s disturbing that you work so hard here, she said, and then you go to horse shows and nobody comes to watch.”
A Relaxed Pace at Gotham North
Although Georgina grew up in New York City and still spends a portion of her time in Manhattan when she’s not traveling to and from shows, she considers Gotham North her permanent home. “Whenever I get here, I don’t want to leave,” she said to her EQ visitors, who were very understanding, as they never wanted to leave either.
She shares the farm with her mother and her three dogs: Hugo, a handsome hound mix; Mable, a bull terrier; and Stella, a slightly deranged Chihuahua. (Georgina has adopted two more dogs since our interview.) The dogs are all rescues, and Georgina is so devoted to them that she chooses to live on Manhattan’s upper west side, rather than downtown near all her friends, because she wants to have access to Central Park for her dogs. As we strolled past the magnificent gardens and paddocks of Gotham North, Hugo followed us, his tail wagging amiably, his eyes on Georgina at all times.
“When I school a horse,” Georgina says of Hugo, “he sits and watches me. Then I’ll say, ‘You wanna go for a walk?’ and he’ll follow my horse and me around all the trails on the property.” Georgina has several options when it comes to schooling her horses. There’s the immaculate indoor riding arena; the Grand Prix course, which is magnificently appointed with natural banks and hedges, all set on grass that is as fastidiously groomed as a putting green; and finally the stadium jumping arena, where, on the day we visited, the jumps all appeared to be set around the six-foot mark.
Georgina is pretty and poised and petite. It’s hard to imagine that the lovely young woman strolling along beside us is the same tenacious rider who competes internationally in the only Olympic sport in which women are allowed to compete against men. As she showed us around the property, she joked about her parents and her lifestyle. The lovely, unpretentious flower gardens planted around the buildings and along the paths reminded us of charming cottage gardens in -England, and Georgina explained that her mother, who is divorced from Mayor -Bloomberg, is the gardener in the family and she is, in fact, English. “She always says that there’s no point in her becoming an American. The only rights that you get are to pay taxes and to vote, and there’s nobody she wants to vote for,” Georgina said. Then she added, laughing good naturedly, “She says that to my father a lot.”
Outside of the Ring
Georgina is on the board of the Equestrian Aid Foundation, which was established in 1996 by six-time Olympic Dressage rider, Robert Dover. Dover started the foundation to assist a friend who was ill with HIV/AIDS and needed help with medical expenses, but now the foundation has expanded its mission to provide support to riders, trainers, grooms, farriers, and other professionals who might need help with medical expenses. Georgina pointed out that while the public may believe that those in the equestrian world are mostly rich and insured, in fact, many riders, trainers, grooms, and other professionals who support the industry lack any medical insurance, though they work around horses and are at a much higher risk of being hospitalized with serious injuries than the average worker. The Equestrian Aid Foundation accepts applications from people in the equestrian industry who need support with medical expenses.
In 2006, Georgina started her own charity called The Rider’s Closet, which seeks to make riding apparel more accessible to therapeutic riding schools, pony clubs, intercollegiate riding programs and other riders who are in need. The Rider’s Closet accepts donations of lightly used riding gear and then offers them to anyone in need who requests the items. Initially, Georgina ran the charity out of the garage at her farm. “I loved packing up the clothes, sending them off, thinking about the people who would be able to use them,” she explains. Eventually, the program expanded to such a degree that Georgina found it difficult to manage along with all the travel and training required by her showing career, so she moved The Rider’s Closet from her home to the Pegasus Farm, in Brewster, New York, which is a therapeutic riding facility. Recently, Ariat, Georgina’s sponsor, donated a bounty of brand new clothes to the charity.
Last year, Georgina had an accident during a show that resulted in a concussion and a broken back. This wasn’t Georgina’s first concussion, and she has broken many bones in her riding career. Though the fracture in her spine wasn’t as serious as it could have been, it exacerbated a congenital spinal condition that Georgina was born with, and it was clear that she would need surgery in order to keep competing. The surgery, scheduled after our visit, would require months of recovery, and we commented that she must be looking forward to this time, as she had been traveling the show circuit from state to state and riding and schooling her horses, as she has done for most of her life.
Yes, Georgina was anxious to have some down-time from riding, but not to watch movies and television, as we had suggested. Georgina had another book due — The A Circuit was such a success that her publishers decided to make it a series. Georgina would also like to get to work designing her own line of equestrian clothing. For the past several years, she’s been sponsored by the equestrian apparel company Ariat, but now she’d like to design her own riding clothes. “I’ve always been interested in fashion, and I’m excited about the idea of designing riding clothes that are comfortable enough to wear riding but can also evolve into fashionable street wear” she said. She recently completed a fashion design course at Parsons The New School for Design to gain additional knowledge about the fashion industry.
Would The A-Circuit’s Thomasina Aaronson loaf around after back surgery, watching television and being tended to by private nurses? Of course not. And neither would Georgina.
MY FAVORITE GETAWAY is Bermuda. We would spend time during the summer there when I was a kid, so I have a lot of childhood memories there. We have a house there now that is such a great place to go and relax. There is nowhere in the world I would rather go than the beach in Bermuda.
MY FAVORITE NY NEIGHBORHOOD. The upper west side, where I live now! I love that you still have good restaurants, bars, and stores, but there is a very residential/family feeling that is very welcoming.
MY FAVORITE HORSE. My two favorite horses are retired at my farm now — my junior hunter Diplomacy and my junior/amateur jumper Action. They were two horses with so much personality and so much talent. They wanted to win every time they went in the ring but always made you work hard and kept you on your toes.
MY FAVORITE SADDLE. I only ride in County Saddles; they are comfy for me and my horses.
MY FAVORITE CHARITY. The ASPCA. An amazing organization run by such great people for animals, my favorite cause.
MY FAVORITE CAR. My first car, which was a silver Nissan pathfinder.
MY FAVORITE HORSE EVENT. My favorite horse shows are the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, the Lake Placid Horse Show, and, the Norten -Hardenberg in Germany.
MY FAVORITE RIDING CLOTHES are Ariat. They are so comfy, everything stretches and fits well.